Rating: PG

Time: Third Season

Author's Note: I did this very short series of episodes for Dawn awhile back. Basically, it answers the common question of what it was like IF Dawn were really in Sunnydale this whole time.

I've dug these episodes up from the dead and decided to share it.

My So-Called Life: The Dawn Chronicles

Episode Two: Coming Back to Life

She's here.

I don't even know how to start this because I don't know what I want to think. Am I happy? I should be. Buffy is here. After three months of not knowing when she'd be back – if she'd ever be back – and she walked into our house not three hours ago. Right after I screamed at mom for not telling me why she ran away in the first place.

Should I be cool about it? Yes. It means my sister is alive.

At the same time, now that she's back, I want her to go away. I don't want her here because she made everyone go crazy. She made mom worry a lot. And Willow and Xander, too. I was supposed to call them today to tell them to come over, but I think I heard mom on the phone saying now wasn't a good time – and that was before Buffy came in.


I bet Willow and Xander will be so mad. Or happy.

I can't tell anymore.

Am I happy that Buffy's back?

I really SHOULD be...

The front door opened then closed.

Dawn crawled out of her bed and cracked open the door a little to see who had gone out. She could hear rustling in her mother's room and pattered over to the door. She crept down the hall, peeking into the darkened room of her older sister. A bag lay on the top of the bed, some clothes spilling out of it. The closet was half-way open and more clothes hung on a chair.

With a deep breath, she continued down the hall to her mom's room.

Joyce Summers was trying to hang up a exotic mask in her room. She was measuring the location by a spot on the wall, putting the pencil tip up to it to mark it.


She shook with fright, the pencil drawing a line further than intended. Turning, she put her hand up to her chest. "Oh, Dawn, sweetie, you scared me. I thought you were asleep."

Dawn slowly stepped into her mom's room, taking a seat at the bed. "Um, I was gonna but...what kind of mask is that?"

Joyce held it up. "It's neat, isn't it? One of the buyers at the museum let me have it." She gazed at it admiringly before looking back at Dawn. "Are you okay, honey? I'm so sorry about what happened down at dinner."

"Me, too," Dawn said with a slight lift of her shoulders. "I-I didn't mean to get mad."

Joyce set down the mask then went over to her, sitting next to Dawn and putting an arm around her to hug her close. "You did have every right." She kissed the top of her head. "But...I do have good news."

Dawn stared at a place in the wall as she let her mom's words sink in.

"Your sister came home," she whispered.

Dawn let out a small, inward sigh. "I thought I heard her." She fumbled with her hands absently, then glanced around the room. "So...where is she?"

Joyce rubbed Dawn's back soothingly. "She wanted to go find Willow and Xander."

"And you let her go? This late?"

"I know, sweetie. But...I think she should go find them. We weren't the only ones who were worrying about her."

"What if she ran off again?"

"Oh, sweetie, no. She'll be okay."

Dawn pulled away and stood up, gazing incredulously at her mother. "How come she always gets to go out this late at night, even after she ran away, and I can't even eat over at Marcy's house?"

But her mom didn't have an answer right away. Instead, she got up and moved over to where she had left the mask. "You and Buffy are different, Dawn. You're my baby. I don't want you to get hurt."

"And what's Buffy? Indestructible?"

She could see her mom freeze in place a moment, then tried to shake it off. "No. But..."

"Nevermind," Dawn said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'm tired all of a sudden. Good night." Without even looking back, she went out of the room and returned to the safety of her covers.

I hated to get up today. But I had to. I kind of wanted to miss the second day of school. But then, it would've been wrong. I don't know why I was so...grumpy. Maybe because when I went to take a shower and stuff, I noticed Buffy's things were in there. Her shampoo, her make-up...her everything.

I didn't want to see them. I almost got used to those things not being there.

I almost got used to Buffy not being there...

Then I went downstairs for breakfast.

Dawn strolled into the kitchen, a new boy band song in her head. Her concentration on the tune and on getting the cereal, she went straight for the cabinet and pulled out a bowl and the cereal box. Humming, she turned around and found Buffy standing there near the fridge.

It scared her to almost deathness. She about dropped the bowl until out of nowhere, Buffy's hand was there to catch it inches from the floor.

"You scared me," Dawn breathed, trying to get her composure as the bowl was handed back to her. She took it, her eyes not leaving Buffy. "I-I didn't see you there."

"Sorry." Buffy turned away, fixing her skirt "Um, how are you?"

Dawn followed suit and turned away from her older sister, avoiding eye contact. "Fine." That was about all she could muster as far as words were concerned. She could feel the tension and Dawn hated it.

She poured the cereal into the bowl, her eyes staring at every flake that fell. She stopped, putting the box on the counter. "Did you see Willow and Xander last night?"

"Yes. I ran into them on the street." She ran her fingers alongside the counter. "Willow and I are supposed to do something today."

"She told you that?" Dawn continued to look at the dry flakes sitting in the bowl.

"Yes. Why?"

Dawn shouldn't have been surprised. Willow Rosenberg was one of the nicest people she had ever met. Even if someone in her shoes would be way mad, Willow never did show anger toward Buffy leaving. "Nothing," Dawn mumbled, suddenly not hungry. She picked up the bowl and began dumping the flakes back in the box.

"What are you doing?" Buffy cried, going over to stop her. She reached out for the bowl making Dawn move her elbow which promptly made the flakes miss their intended destination.

Flakes spilled everywhere on the counter.

"Dawn!" Buffy cried just as Dawn yelled, "Buffy!"

"Geez, why'd you make me do that?" Dawn rebuked her, staring at the mess.

"You're not supposed to go all poury with the flakes that have been out of the box." Buffy began sweeping the fallen flakes into a pile on the counter.

"I didn't eat them or spit them out!" She watched as Buffy began to clean it up.

"Dawn, you might as well have touched them and – "

Dawn frowned, slamming the bowl hard on the counter. "Leave me alone," she snapped.

"Dawn – "

But the younger Summers girl wasn't hearing it. She just let Buffy take over the cleaning and grabbed her book bag. "I'll be waiting out in the car," she said. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes and she fought them back. Stalking out of the house, she went to the Cherokee and climbed into the front seat.

Buffy runs away for months and the first thing she did to Dawn was scold her like a kid. Scold her like she had been there the first twenty times Dawn had done that. Crossing her arms, she stared at nothing in particular on the dashboard.

A few minutes later, Joyce was climbing into the driver's seat. She sat there a moment then looked over at Dawn. "We're going to get through this, sweetie," she said, gently. "You just have to trust me on this one."

Dawn frowned, arms still crossed. But she didn't say anything.

"I'm going to drop you off at school. Then Buffy and I are going to the high school to try and see if we can get her back in." Worry laced her tone. Worry and slight frustration.

Dawn wasn't sure why exactly Buffy was kicked out of school last year. It really didn't matter since the running away helped Buffy avoid even explaining it. "Fine. I don't care. It's not like it's the first time, anyhoo."

"Dawn," Joyce began in a stern voice. But it was cut off by the opening of the back door where Buffy situated herself. Dawn's mother gave a quick glance at Dawn as if to say 'don't say anything' then put on her best fake smile. "Hey, honey. Ready to face Rat Man?"

"Mom," Buffy said with a hint of shock humor. "I didn't think you had those evil feelings in you."

Dawn just sat back and stared out the window all the way to school without a word.

"Dawn, honey!" came Mrs. Summers voice from downstairs.

Dawn was at her desk, trying to finish the first assigned chapter for history. She looked up at the sound of her mother's voice. "Yes?"

"When you're done with your homework, I need for you to come down here and help me clean."

"Clean?" Dawn wondered aloud.

"But right now, I need for you to get my address book on my dresser, please?"

Dawn let out a sigh and stood up, obediently. She went over to her mom's room and glanced over the dresser's top. As she did so, something caught the corner of her eye in the mirror. She looked up expectantly but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Just the creepy mask that her mom officially hung last night.

Glancing back down, Dawn located the book. She reached for it but not before once again, something caught her eyes. Her head snapped up, and she could've sworn there was some sort of light that flashed briefly in the mirror. Slowly, she turned around for a better look. Again, nothing was out of the ordinary.

A creepy feeling went up her spine and she quickly grabbed the book, making a fast exit out of the room. She thundered down the stairs and went into the kitchen.

Mrs. Summers was waiting there with one of her Book Club friends, Pat. "Hey, my little pum'kin belly."

She handed the book to her mom, giving the other woman a small smile as a greeting. She didn't really know what to think of her. She was nice enough - maybe a little TOO nice. Still, she did help her mom a lot over the summer. "I still can't believe you hung that scary mask up there."

"It's not scary, Dawn. It's cultural."

"It's culturally scary." She leaned on the counter. "So, what's with the clean?"

"Well, Pat and I had this great idea." She opened her book and flipped through it. "We couldn't get Buffy back in school. It might take more work than I thought. But I think it would be wonderful to invite her friends over for a... well, a welcome back dinner."

The thought of seeing Willow, Xander, and Oz was good in Dawn's thoughts. She hadn't seen them since Buffy got back, not even heard from them. "Tonight?"

"Tomorrow night." She licked her finger to help turn the next page. "I think your sister will enjoy it."

With a small shrug, Dawn stood up straight. "Yeah. I guess." Her mom never really talked about Buffy being back. She just tried to feed Buffy a large meal all the time. Like feeding her would keep her. "So, where is Buffy?"

"Um, went to see Willow. I dropped her off. Oh, here it is, Pat." She pointed to a number in the book. "I hear she makes the best hor d'orves."

"That's not a lie," Pat said in her usual cheerful voice. "Sally is wonderful! Remember in one of the first meetings we had..."

Dawn decided then her duty was done and let the two women talk amongst themselves. As she sat back down to look over her homework, she couldn't help feel angry. She should've felt happy to see her sister. But she couldn't sit there and stare at Buffy without feeling betrayed in some way.

Maybe Willow or Xander didn't feel that way. Maybe it was just Dawn.

A few minutes into her studying, the phone rang. Dawn reached over and picked it up before the second ring. "Hello?"

"Hey, Dawnie, it's Willow."

"Willow!" A smile broke on the 12-year-old's face at the sound of the familiar voice. "Hi! What's up?"

Willow paused as if trying to find words. "Um, not much. I actually have a lot of homework to do. Boy, becoming a senior isn't all that's it's cracked up to be." She sighed, hinting a bit more than homework distress. "I just called to tell you that... well, that I couldn't meet Buffy where we were supposed to meet."

"Oh. Well, Mom just dropped her off a few minutes ago."

"Really?" A longer pause. "Oh... um, I tried to call earlier. Well, tell her I'm sorry."

Dawn knitted her brows together in curiosity. "Are you okay?"

"Me? Yeah! I'm fine. Goodness, in fact. I just... I was being down with the being held up thing."

"I'll tell her. Hey, Mom just told me she was gonna invite you guys to a Welcome Home party tomorrow! Can you come?"

"Sure. Yeah." Her voice grew less hesitant then. "That sounds actually good."

"It'll be fun! I'll tell Mom that you're coming."

"We'll help, too. Tell your mom to call me with whatever she needs. I'll tell Xander, Oz, and Cordelia."

"Yay!" Dawn was practically bouncing.

"How are you doing, Dawnie?"

"Fine," she replied, oblivious to Willow's undertones. "I gotta lot of homework, too, but I can get it done right away. It's just history. It's my best subject."

"Alright, Dawnie. I'll talk to you later."

It was really gross. Buffy got home. I told her about Willow calling. She kind of didn't seem happy. I had to defend Willow, tell Buffy that she had homework. Just because she doesn't, it didn't mean those of us who go to school don't either.

Anyway, the gross part was she found a dead cat in the basement. Ewwww! She was getting the company plates for tomorrow and it just fell from the top shelf.

We buried it in the backyard. It was kind of lame. Mom wanted to have a funeral or something. Maybe if it was cute...

Buffy didn't seem excited that her friends are coming tomorrow night. Nothing makes her happy anymore.

I want to scream at her, I think. Tell her how mad I am that she left us. But Mom keeps telling me to keep it to myself. Am I the only one who wants to do this?

"Wow, so you're sister is back?" Marcy asked, her eyes wide as they stood near the classroom to their next class. It was the next day, the day of the party. "How come you're just telling me this now?"

Dawn shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't think it was important."

"Dawn! It's important city! This is huge in like 'Titanic' way." Marcy's face fell a little. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know how I feel, Marcy." She felt ashamed about what she wanted to say. "I wanna be happy 'cause... okay, well, I'm not happy. I want Buffy to be home. But I don't. Or maybe I just want to be mad at her."

"You should be, then. I'd be royally ticked if my brother left."

"Yeah. And mom's not happy because Buffy can't get back into school. But she's not mad at Buffy."

"Wow. The high school wouldn't let her back in?"

Dawn shook her head, slightly embarrassed. "It's nothing of the newness. Buffy got kicked out of her other school." She quickly recalled her parents practically screaming at Buffy for what she had done, which was burn down the gym. Oh, yes, did Dawn wish it was something minor like skipping. But Buffy had done that, too.

"Why she was kicked out this time?"

Dawn shrugged. "As usual, Mom wouldn't tell me. I think it was major, though. I think the cops were involved."

"Whoa. The police?" Marcy wrinkled her nose to indicate confusion. "I don't get it. Your sister is kinda cool. I mean, she's really pretty and stuff. I just don't see her getting in trouble as much as she does. Especially when you said she got in trouble for fighting?"

Dawn tried to smile it off, knowing she herself was just as confused. "I know. I don't think she wins those fights, though. She's such a wimp. I could totally beat her up. But she's really strong-headed."

Marcy giggled. "Gee, now I know where you get it."

Dawn gaped at her. "What? I totally am not!"

But they both burst into giggles and Dawn began to feel better. Marcy always seemed to know how to do it.

Andrew Finch pretty much came out of nowhere as he stepped into the crowd of two. "Hey," he said, though mainly directing the greeting toward Dawn.

Marcy gave Dawn a teasing look then acknowledged the boy. "Hey, Andrew. What's up?"

He shrugged. "Oh, nothing really." He shifted uncomfortably.

Dawn mentally rolled her eyes. It wasn't that she didn't like him, but not in the way he wanted her to. He was just...weird. And too, too dorky to date. But he had saved her yesterday from Michelle Woodard's words that could've been worse if he didn't interject. In some way, Dawn owed it to him to at least talk.

But sometimes, she just didn't know what to say.

"So...are you doing anything tonight?" Andrew finally asked. He gazed at Dawn, expectantly.

She knew what he was getting at. And she prayed that it was something they could've avoided. "Um, actually, I am. We're throwing a party for my sister."

"Really? She's back, huh?"

Dawn nodded. "Yeah."

"Oh." He stood there as if wanting to say more. "So, who's all going?"

Marcy was making some sort of shake of her head as she stood behind him.

With a quick glance to her then back to him, Dawn formed a small smile. "A bunch of Buffy's friends, is all. Probably gonna be boring."


"So, we've gotta get to class," Dawn said, reaching out to take Marcy by the wrist. "I'll see you around?" Without really waiting for him to answer, she pulled her friend into the classroom. When they sat in their places, Dawn rolled her eyes for real.

"Wow, you got yourself a puppy," Marcy remarked as she pulled out her math book. "Arf, arf."

"Stop it, Marcy. I just... I feel bad for him. He's really nice."

"So ask him out."

"That's just it: he's not that nice." She opened up her folder. "Oh, by the way, this party is gonna be fun. Willow and Xander are always fun. They said they're going to invite some people, maybe even Oz's band. It's a surprise for Buffy. I mean, the band and stuff. You should come."

Marcy grinned, recalling the very opposite thing Dawn just told Andrew. "I'm there, girl."

Later that afternoon, Dawn arrived home. She quickly went to the cabinet to grab a munchie when she noticed Buffy milling around in the living room, already dressed. Her sister was arranging some things yet she looked out of it. She didn't even notice Dawn had walked in.

Usually, Buffy seemed to have ears like a bat.

Dawn chewed on the granola bar as she stared at Buffy. Contemplating on whether to say anything, she picked up her book bag and went into the foyer, closing in on Buffy's position. She waited, wanting Buffy to notice her first.

But it never happened.

With a frown, Dawn turned and went up the steps without a word.

I'm so excited about this party! Marcy is coming over in about five minutes. Mom's friend, Pat, just got here. She keeps bugging Buffy about how Mom was over the summer. Well, Buffy deserves it. Buffy should know about how she made Mom act, especially since I'm not allowed to say anything to her.

I wish I could.

But Mom says that this is Buffy's party, and we should make her feel good about being home.

The party was a lot more than Dawn could ever hope for. Oz did bring his band – his band and about 60 other kids from Buffy's school. It was so loud with the music and the shouting, but Dawn went into the fray with punch in her hand and enjoying Oz's music like she always did.

She didn't know Buffy knew this many people.

"Wow!" Marcy said over the noise. "This is crazy!"

"I know! Isn't great!?" Dawn shouted in return. She scanned the crowd, people dancing, people eating. She didn't recognize one person outside of Xander, Willow, Oz, Oz's band, and Cordelia. She frowned when she spotted Xander smooching with Cordelia near the stairs.

Dawn really had nothing against Cordelia - well, maybe she did. But she convinced herself that it was way before she started dating Xander. And what was up with that anyway? Xander barely talked about Cordelia all summer long. Then again, the two of them used to hate each other.

"Heavy smoochies going on there," Marcy remarked, seeing where Dawn was looking. When Dawn faced her, she grinned. "Don't worry about it."

"Who said I was?" Dawn replied, taking her eyes away from them.

She saw Buffy weaving through the crowd looking lost as she cleaned up some cups. Willow was only inches from her, tapping her feet to Oz's music but she barely turned toward Buffy until Buffy was practically next to her, screaming in her ear.

Everything seemed okay. Xander and Willow were speaking to Buffy, obviously. They invited all these people just to make Buffy feel better. But Dawn couldn't help but think something else was wrong.

She tugged on Marcy's arm and led her to the kitchen, where Joyce and Pat were enjoying something called schnapps. Dawn had no idea what it was but it smelled really funny. "Hey, Mom!"

"Hi, honey," Joyce greeted her with a really wide grin. "Hello, Marcy. The party is great, isn't it? Willow and Xander really pulled through for Buffy."

"Yes they did," Pat agreed, taking another sip of the nasty-smelling drink. "Aren't you happy Buffy's back?"

Joyce's smile faded a little as she set down the glass on the counter. Dawn stared at her mom, a little surprised at how she took that question. She and Marcy exchanged glances.

"I should be happy," she answered, honestly. Her eyes never left the counter. "I don't know. While Buffy was gone - all I could think about was getting her home. I just knew if I could put my arms around her and tell her how much I loved her - then everything would
be okay..."

Dawn found the counter just as interesting as her mother found it. This was the first time she had heard her mother answer truthfully.

"But?" Pat proded, trying to catch the other woman's eye.

"But things are never that simple, are they? I mean, she's here. She's right in front of me... So now I can see how unhappy she is. And I still don't know what to say - what to do - to make things right." She took a deep breath, seemingly forgetting that Dawn and Marcy were standing there. "Having Buffy home - I thought it would make it all better. But in
some ways, it's almost worse..."

Whoa, Dawn thought, feeling very uncomfortable all of a sudden. Her mom really wasn't as happy as Dawn first thought. She was actually just as confused as Dawn was. After a beat or five, Dawn decided to make a move. "Um, let's go upstairs," she told Marcy.

Seeing the tension, Marcy nodded and followed Dawn towards the stairs. They passed Cordelia and Xander as they moved in that direction.

"Dawnster," Xander greeted her, leaving Cordelia's lips for one moment. "What's shaking?"

Dawn tried not to blush. "Nothing. We're gonna go upstairs a bit."

"Too loud in here?" he asked with a grin.

"Very." She lifted her shoulders in a small shrug. "But Oz's band is really cool."

"Nothing but the best for your sister." He continued to smile, though it began to strain a little.

"Please," Cordelia interjected. "If we really wanted to best, we could've gotten some cooler band. Luckily, Dingoes were avail."

Xander gazed at the brunette. "Okay, Cordy, didn't need that participation outside the conversation."

"Sorry." She looked at Dawn, trying to make up for what she said. "Totally the best." She smiled that Beauty Queen smile.

Dawn weakly returned it. "See ya'." She took Marcy's arm and led her up the stairs.

As they passed Buffy's room, Dawn noticed the door halfway opened. She could see Buffy going back and forth from her closet to her bed. The youngest child of the Summers' family stopped and tried to get a better look as to why Buffy was up there and not in the party that was all about her.

That's when Dawn noticed it: the bag on the bed. The bag being slowly filled with clothes from Buffy's closet. The beating in her chest began to thump loudly when everything began to register. When she could hear the sniffling coming from Buffy as she went about her motions.

She knew it. Dawn knew Buffy wasn't here to stay. Her chest began to grow heavy as Marcy gently put her hand comfortingly on Dawn's arm. "I should go," she whispered.

She didn't hear her friend at first. The phone woke her out of her stupor and she turned to Marcy, pleading with her not to go. Without a word, she pulled Marcy into her room just as Willow came up the stairs. The redhead looked like she was about to call out to Dawn when she noticed what was going on in Buffy's room.

'You're leaving again?" Dawn heard Willow ask just as she was about to shut the door. She had never heard Willow's voice reach a level like that. "What, you just stopped by to pick up your lint brush and now you're ready to go?"

Dawn shut the door then, hating to hear Willow angry. Buffy definitely deserved it, and Dawn sort of hoped Willow let her have it. She went over to her desk and flipped on the radio, not wanting to hear the talk that she knew would ensue.

"I can't believe she was gonna run away again," Dawn muttered, sitting at her desk.

Marcy didn't look like she knew what to say. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

They could both hear muffled shouts from Buffy's room and Dawn began to fumble with her fingers. Then a third voice was heard, Dawn recognizing it right away as her mom.

"Uh, oh," she suddenly piped up, getting to her feet. She moved toward the door just as Buffy was rushing out into the hall.

"Stop! Just - stop! I don't know. Okay? I don't know what I'm doing."

Willow and Joyce were hot on Buffy's heels as she rushed downstairs. Dawn and Marcy stood at her door, neither moving. Then Dawn slowly stepped toward the stairs and went down each one gingerly as the shouts grew from downstairs.

It wasn't just Willow anymore.

Stopping halfway down, Dawn stared at the scene in front of her: Buffy in the middle of the living room, practically back against the fireplace while Joyce was confronting her in front of everyone. Willow, Cordelia, Oz, and Xander made an arc around the mother and daughter.

Joyce glared at her oldest daughter. "You can't imagine. Months of not knowing. Not knowing if you were lying dead in a ditch somewhere or -I don't know - living it up."

"But you told me!" Buffy suddenly screamed, pointing to herself as tears streamed down her face. "You're the one who said I should go. You said – 'if you leave this house, don't come back.' You found out who I really am and you couldn't deal - remember?"

That shocked Dawn. Her mom told her sister to leave? Was that the reason she ran away? Her shaking hands slowly reached for the railing, wondering what their mother found out about Buffy. Who Buffy really was?

"Buffy!" Joyce continued, defensively. "You didn't give me any time. You just dumped this... this thing on me and expected me to get it. Well - guess what? Mom's not perfect. I
handled it badly. But that doesn't give you the right to punish me by running away!"

"Punish you?" Buffy asked, incredulously. "I didn't do this to punish you."

"Well you did," Xander interjected. "You should have seen what it did to her."

"Great. Would anybody else care to weigh in? What about you? By the dip."

Dawn could see people moving out the door, not wanting to be a part of the tension. Marcy continued down the stairs, giving Dawn one last glance. "I do need to go. I'll call you later." Then she followed a person out of the door.

"Maybe you don't want to hear it, Buffy," Xander intoned harshly. "But taking off like that was selfish and stupid."

"Okay - I screwed up! I know it - alright!? But you have no idea. You have no idea what happened to me or what I was feeling!"

Dawn couldn't stand it anymore. Everyone at the party was staring at her mother, Xander, and Buffy go at it. It was more unnerving than embarrassing. And the tones they used were harsh and too emotional, the tears streaming down Buffy's face as she squared off with the wrath of her friends, their words surprising Dawn, especially the ones Xander used.

And Dawn wanted to follow Marcy. Angry, shocked tears fell down her face as well as she ran down the rest of the stairs and went through the kitchen and out into the backyard. She stumbled her way to the nearest tree and collapsed in tears and she buried her face into her hands.

She sobbed for a full minute or two then faltered. That's when she heard the loud CRASH! coming from the house. She looked up as the noises continued, screaming soon following after. Unsteadily, Dawn got to her feet, blinking back the leftover tears as she left her spot at the tree. She took careful steps toward the house, her heart racing at the sounds of more crashes and more screams.

A hand clamped heavy on her shoulder, making her whirl around. She expected to see some random person who had wandered out of the party. Instead, what she saw before her eyes made her scream in pure horror.

It was a man. But his face was... not there. At least not his skin. It was... rotting. And he stunk of old things. His eyeball was barely set properly in its socket.

Dawn let out another scream before jerking out of his grasp. What was he? It almost looked like he was some sort of... zombie. But Dawn knew that was impossible. Since when did this become a Halloween party?

"Wh-what do you want?" she stammered, her knees suddenly frozen in place.

He continued to stare at her blankly. His outstretched hand remained ready to take her again.

"Leave me alone!" But before she could turn and run away, the cold, rotting hand took her HARD by the shoulder.

Before the zombie guy tried to do anything else, a loud crash of glass and wood sounded from up above making them both look up. Two figures rolled down the roof of the porch and onto the ground below.

Dawn and the strange man watched as the two figures remarkably recovered easily from the two-story fall. Dawn's eyes widened when she saw it was Buffy and someone else with a weird mask on. Wait a minute, she thought. Isn't that...?

Her thoughts were ripped away, however, when the figure went in to attack Buffy. Dawn moved to warn her sister to run, but Buffy let out a series of well put punches and kicks, causing some damage to the attacker.

Whoa, Dawn thought in awe. Since when did Buffy learn to hit like that? Must've been from being on the streets.

The strange, ugly man hissed. He seemed much more interested in Buffy and her fight with the masked person.

Suddenly, Buffy must've heard the man because she turned for a split second, seeing the zombie with Dawn. Her eyes grew wide. "Get away from her!" she cried out to the man.

Dawn took a step back right as the masked woman reached out for Buffy, only to get another powerful kick in the face. That was Pat! The masked woman was Pat! And that mask was that scary one in her mom's room!

"Dawn, get down!" Buffy cried just as a flash of light filled the night around them.

Dawn dropped to the ground in time to avoid it directly. She didn't know why, but she really didn't think it would be a good idea to meet that light head on. She buried her face into her arms just as the kitchen door opened and Oz called Buffy's name.

The masked Pat turned toward him and another flash of light filled the air. Dawn could almost feel the hairs on her arms stand up at the power that came with the light. Looking up, she saw Oz frozen in place. "Oz?" she called. She looked back to see if Buffy was okay.

Instead, the zombie guy was hulking over Dawn. She let out a scream just as Buffy took advantage of Masked Pat's Oz distraction. "Hey Pat!" she called.

She turned just as Buffy shoved a shovel right into her eyes. "Made you look," she spat, watching Pat squirm and try to grasp at the garden tool sticking out of her face. Then another flash of light burst and Pat was gone.

Cringing at what Buffy had just done with the shovel they had used to bury the cat just yesterday, Dawn fell back from the bright light that emanated from Pat's mask. She put her arm up to cover most of the illuminating beams. When she felt the light disappear and the zombie who was about to attack her go with it, Dawn hardly had time to recover when she felt strong arms around her, and Buffy's voice near her ear as she hugged her.

"I'm sorry," Buffy mumbled under Dawn's long, brown hair. "I'm sorry that I went away."

Dawn was almost in shock in hearing those words. It was probably from the fact that over and over again, in the beginning of the summer, she hoped to hear them. Tears forming in her own eyes, she put her smaller arms around her older sister and embraced her for all she was worth. "I missed you," she said, now openly crying, openly wanting to let her sister know how much she did. "A lot, I mean. And I was so mad but I-I didn't want you to think I didn't want you here."

"I know," Buffy replied, stroking Dawn's hair soothingly. "I totally went out of my mind. I didn't mean it."

And they sat like that for a while. Oz, now realizing that he didn't need to tell Buffy what he had to say, looked on then disappeared back into the house to give the two sisters a moment they thought was lost.

"Whoa," Dawn commented, surveying the mess when she and Buffy went back into the house. "That was some party."

Xander, Willow, Oz, Cordelia, and Mr. Giles also stood there, nodding their heads in agreement.

"Yep," Xander said, putting his arm around Cordelia's shoulders. "I'd hate to be the family who lives in this house." He glanced over at the Summers women as if noticing them for the very first time. "Oh wait..."

"Xander," Buffy said with a mock evil eye.

Smiling, Dawn could see things were a little better. It still lingered in her mind how they had all fought it out in front of everybody. "Are you guys... okay now?" she asked sheepishly as her mom held her close.

Willow and Xander exchanged looks with each other, then back at Buffy.

"More than," Willow remarked with a full-blown smile. "More talk, but good talk will follow."

Dawn let go of her mom a moment. "You should've seen Buffy out there!" she began excitedly. "It was totally cool! Like kung fu. Like Jackie Chan kung fu!" She mocked a karate chop. "She totally beat up Pat out there! You guys should've seen her."

It was then that Dawn noticed the more exchanging of looks.

She dropped her arms. "Um, wasn't it cool?"

"Yes, it was, honey," Joyce assured her.

"Since when did Buffy become a black belt anyway?" Dawn asked, eyeing her sister who suddenly became almost embarrassed.

"Yes, well, I think we shall be going," Mr. Giles replied.

Dawn had always wondered why Buffy always invited the librarian from her school a lot. Not that he wasn't cool and all, even though he was old and did smell like mothballs. It was just kind of weird.

"And were those zombies?" Dawn continued.

"Yeah, we really should get going," Xander said, leading his girlfriend away.

"Agreed," Oz intoned, holding Willow's hand.

Willow did a sort of sympathetic smile towards Buffy. "She's too smart," she told her as-a-matter-of-factly. Then she turned to Dawn. "We'll see you later, Dawnie."

Mr. Giles paused at the door, giving them a small smile. "I'm afraid she is growing up fast," he commented.

Then the five of them went out the door.

Dawn watched them through what was left of the window of the living room then looked back at her mom and sister. "So, why were there zombies in the living room?" she asked, innocently.

Joyce and Buffy did the more exchanges of looks, annoying Dawn a bit. But an expression of agreement passed both their faces and they looked back at her.

"Dawn, we need to talk to you," Joyce said.

Dawn just gazed at them in wonderment...

So the party was totally cool. Unfortunately, we got a lot of cleaning up to do. I couldn't skip out on school tomorrow to help like I wanted, but then, it means I get out of cleaning a lot of the stuff since Buffy has to stay home anyway.

Plus, Buffy, Willow, and Xander seem to be best friends again. That totally gave me a happy.

After everyone left, Mom and Buffy talked to me in the kitchen and told me all sorts of stuff. That those were real zombies. That they could've eaten my face like they do on TV. How creepy was that? They said something about Mom's mask being the reason they came to our house. I KNEW it was beyond the creep factor.

Wow, real zombies. It kinda makes me wonder what else is real...

I think the coolest thing they told me, though, was that Buffy promised, promised that she would never run away like that again. I believed her. She's my sister. And she might be a spoiled brat, but I kinda love her. And I want her to stay here with us and never, ever leave.

I promised not to tell anyone about the zombie attack, not even Marcy. It would probably make me seem kind of wacko anyway.

My hand's getting tired writing so I'll stop now.

Oh! And they also told me one last weirdo thing – what the heck is a Vampire Slayer, anyway?

More next time.


Next episode: Just when Dawn learns more about what her sister really is, someone else comes into town and brings a friend that makes Dawn learn the very hard way...

Author's Note: Some lines were used from the script of "Dead Man's Party" so they pretty much belong to Marti Noxon.